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The Death Shift is a Parent's Worst Nightmare

This true story of a malevolent pediatric nurse will chill you to the bone. 

The Death Shift true crime book excerpt

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: unspeakable harm befalling their children. No parent wants to lose a child—but to make such a waking nightmare more perverse is to learn the health care worker they trusted deliberately harmed their child.

The Death Shift by Peter Elkind tells such a story—made even more horrific by the fact that it’s true.

In 1980, Genene Jones worked the late shift—soon to be known as “the death shift”—from three to 11 p.m. at the pediatric ICU in San Antonio’s county hospital. During that time, several infants passed away suddenly after experiencing unexpected complications. After more than a year of this, Jones moved on to a rural pediatric clinic—upon solid recommendation from the hospital. During her time there, more children mysteriously died, including a 15-month-old baby girl.

When Jones was finally arrested in 1984, the trial revealed the horrors of her disturbed mind, as well as her twisted desire to play “God” with her patients. Even more horrible was the revelation that the hospital in San Antonio had seemed to be aware of her inclinations, shredding records and obscuring the full extent of her actions. 

Related: Angel of Death: Inside the Mind of Serial Child Killer Beverley Allitt

This book exposes the horrors of Jones’ crimes, detailing the excruciating trials and devastating aftermath of one of the most horrific crimes in America. Today, we’re bringing you an excerpt of The Death Shift for a chilling glimpse into this shocking case.

Read on for an excerpt of The Death Shift, and then purchase the book.

The Death Shift

The Death Shift

By Peter Elkind

It was just past noon when Petti McClellan headed for the cemetery to visit her little girl. Chelsea Ann would have been fifteen months and eleven days old that day. Petti kept track, as though there would be another birthday to celebrate, with adoring grandparents and funny hats and ice cream and, most of all, a big homemade cake, with three wax candles—one, of course, to grow on—planted firmly in a thick coat of sugary chocolate frosting. The truth was that Petti, even though she had journeyed to the cemetery daily during the week since the funeral, didn’t really accept that Chelsea was gone. It had all been so sudden.

Related: The Boy in the Box: Philadelphia’s Decades-Long Child Murder Mystery

Cemetery entrance for excerpt of The Death Shift true crime book
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  • Photo Credit: Ayanna Johnson / Unsplash

Slender and a bit frail, Petti McClellan was a girlishly pretty woman with dark hair and sad eyes. She and her husband, Reid, both twenty-seven, lived in a trailer home seventeen miles from the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Kerrville, where they had buried their only daughter. The air was dry and cool on this late-September day, despite the midday Texas sun. Situated near the geographic center of the state, Kerrville was renowned for its gentle climate. The sleepy retirement community stood in the heart of the Texas Hill Country—a dramatic highland of craggy peaks, blazing wildflowers, crisp skies, and sparkling streams. Carpeted with grass and shaded by trees, the Hill Country was a land of great beauty, a soothing relief from the parched prairie to the west, the treeless plains to the north and east, and the semitropical brush country that stretched south to the Rio Grande. But the Hill Country was also a place of hidden dangers—of thin soil and erratic rainfall, of flash floods and venomous snakes.

Related: 8 True Crime Books About Murders in Texas

Texas countryside in true crime book The Death Shift
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  • Photo Credit: Raychel Sanner / Unsplash

Petti parked her dusty Oldsmobile just inside the cemetery grounds and started on the short walk to her daughter’s grave. During her first visit to this place, upon seeing the small sealed box containing the body, Petti had screamed, “You’re killing my baby!” and crumpled to the ground. Family and friends had sent her to a psychiatrist to help her cope; he had placed Petti on powerful sedatives that kept her in a haze much of the day. Now it was images of Chelsea that fogged the young mother’s mind: of blue eyes and tiny blond curls, and of her daughter’s smile, cherubic and winsome, full of innocent delight and spoiled mischief. There was another image too: the look of terror in Chelsea’s eyes when she suddenly was unable to breathe.

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The sound of moaning in the distance swept away Petti’s fog. Looking up, she noticed a heavyset woman kneeling at the foot of her daughter’s grave. Petti McClellan knew the woman. It was Genene Jones, the nurse in the pediatrician’s office where this nightmare had begun, where the world had spun out of control with the flash of a steel syringe. Genene was rocking back and forth before the mound of upturned earth that covered Chelsea. Tears streamed down her face. And she was wailing the dead child’s name, over and over, in a chilling incantation: Chelsea! Chelsea! Chelsea!

After watching silently for several minutes, Petti crept closer and called to the nurse. What was she doing there? Genene struggled to her feet and stared—not at but through Petti, as though she weren’t even there. Then the nurse walked off, without uttering a word. Frozen by the encounter, Petti noticed that Genene had left behind a bouquet of flowers. But she had taken something too: a bow from Chelsea’s grave.

Related: A Death in White Bear Lake: The Child Abuse Case That Led to Murder

Bouquet on a headstone for excerpt of true crime book The Death Shift
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  • Photo Credit: Sandy Millar / Unsplash

Until that moment, the McClellans had believed that Genene Jones and Kathy Holland, the doctor for whom Genene worked, had done everything they could to save their daughter’s life. Now Petti began to think there was something strange about the nurse—something she didn’t know or understand, something horrible and frightening.

She did not yet suspect that Chelsea had been murdered.

Want to keep reading? Click below to purchase your own copy of The Death Shift.

The Death Shift

The Death Shift

By Peter Elkind